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Drug Companies Collaborate to Take on the Opioid Crisis

Posted on November 8th, 2017 by in Pharma R&D


The opioid crisis in the US is now responsible for taking more American lives each year than car crashes.

The pharmaceutical industry has come under fire for having a role in the epidemic, with some companies being accused of deliberately downplaying the addictive dangers of opioids. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is even going so far as to sue Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions and Allergan, claiming that they conducted misleading marketing campaigns.

But even as the debate over who is to blame for the opioid epidemic continues, much of the pharma industry is now fully engaged in trying to find ways to combat this terrible crisis. In May, the National Institutes of Health announced a public-private partnership designed to develop new therapies in a much shorter time-frame. “The goal is to rapidly bring to market three types of drugs: non-addictive medications for chronic pain, better treatments for opioid addiction and improved methods of reversing opioid overdoses,” explained Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post. The hope is to duplicate the public-private model that the NIH has used for its Accelerating Medicines Partnership, a collaboration with several drug companies and advocacy groups aimed at creating treatments for Alzheimer’s, lupus and more.

As Dustin Racioppi reported, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who chairs the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, has announced that 17 pharma companies have already agreed to share 40 different compounds with each other to help develop safe, non-addictive pain treatments, as well as therapies for those trying to overcome their addictions. Governor Christie compared the collaboration to the response to the AIDS crisis in the ‘90s, another time when pharmaceutical firms worked together to battle an epidemic.

Many strides have already been made in the effort to develop pain killers that don’t have the negative side effects of conventional opioids. In a CNBC feature, Aneri Pattani identified three especially promising compounds: “Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical company Trevena’s oliceridine has been given preferential regulatory treatment by the FDA; mitragynine pseudoindoxyl, a compound derived from leaves of the Southeast Asian kratom plant, has shown less incidence of addiction in mice trials; and early testing of compound PZM21 has produced results researchers claim are unlike anything they’ve seen from potential painkiller compounds.”

Pattani also noted that New Jersey-based Braeburn Pharmaceuticals had developed the first implant designed to treat opioid addiction, which would cost just about $5,000 for a six-month course of treatment. Braeburn’s pipeline also includes weekly and monthly injectables for treating both opioid addiction and pain. 

The effort to deal with the ravages of opioid addiction is even bringing some heavy-hitting rivals together. Eli Lilly and Co. and Pfizer, Inc. have teamed up to work on a non-opioid chronic pain medication, a drug called tanezumab. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, tanezumab is currently being tested in 7,000 patients in late-stage clinical trials, and they expect to get data on the trials next year. Lilly and Pfizer “got a big boost June 13 when their drug won ‘fast-track’ designation from the Food and Drug Administration for treating osteoarthritis and chronic back pain,” added the Journal.

Collaborations like these are critical at a time when an “all hands on deck” approach is needed to take on an overwhelming crisis. Lives are being damaged and lost at a rapid rate, but fast action on the part of government agencies, non-profits, academia and pharmaceutical companies will hopefully help us see better treatments for addiction and, perhaps even more importantly, new pain medications that don’t pose the same hazards as current opioids.

For more on this topic see: The Opioid Epidemic in America

Download The Opioid Epidemic in America Infographic

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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